(Pocket-lint) - If you're anything like us then you might think sleep tracking is a bit of a conflicting concept. After all, if you're having trouble sleeping then is it useful to have a device tell you exactly the extent to which that's the case?
However, the main barrier for many of us lies in wearing a wrist-worn device to bed for the purpose of tracking. We'd simply rather not, for comfort reasons, and that's where the Withings Sleep Analyzer comes into play. It's probably the best way to track your sleep, provided you're really that keen to know all the details of your unconscious nocturnal life.
What is Withings Sleep Analyzer?
The Sleep Analyzer is a mat-like device that slips under your mattress at roughly chest-level, which then calibrates and inflates air pockets inside itself to help measure not only your small movements while in bed, but also your breathing rate and pulse.
Withings isn't new to the sleep tracking game by any stretch at all. In fact, it's probably one of the best-known names in the market, and has had a range of trackers available for years now. We last fully reviewed one back in 2015, when we took a look at the Aura Total Sleep System, but since then it's had the more simply-named Withings Sleep consistently at the top of most people's reckoning for the best tracker out there.
Now, that same system has been given a small update and re-released as the Sleep Analyser, bringing a few key upgrades - but keeping a lot the same. The central addition is enhanced tracking of potential sleep apnea, something that affects untold people worldwide, so that's a welcome change.
The tracker can listen out for noise, disturbances and wakages, with all of this data being collated and interpreted into a morning report that it'll send to your phone once it's connected to your Wi-Fi network.
Once you've unboxed the tracker and set it up, you can pretty much entirely forget about it, other than in the event of your Wi-Fi details changing, or you swapping to the other side of the bed.
The tracker can monitor one person at a time, so if you and a partner both want details then you'll need to buy one each.
Either way, the Withings Sleep Analyser is the definition of unnoticeable - while it's perfectly pleasant to look at, you'll never actually do that, given its location. Perhaps the only part that could intrude is its power cable, which is nicely braided and has a cable tidy attached to let you easily arrange it out of view.
What does Withings Sleep Analyzer track?
Sleep a few nights with the Sleep Analyzer tucked under your mattress and you'll get used to opening Withings' Health Mate app to a range of new metrics. These all combine into one core number every morning - your Sleep Score.
At first glance, you'll see this score out of 100 alongside a timer for how much sleep you actually got, and a graph visualising how this time unfolded.
Tapping in to your night's sleep expands this into a more detailed view. This makes it easier to see that the different shades of blue on the graph represent light sleep, deep sleep and REM, while grey is time when you were awake (even if you don't remember that time). You'll get timestamps for when you fell asleep and woke up, and can tap anywhere on the graph to see what time it was.
Scrolling down lets you see a breakdown of your score by six more precise metrics: duration, depth, regularity, interruptions, time to sleep, and time to get up. The first four of these are also given a traffic-light colour-coded system to let you know how they stack up to averages you'd be aiming for.
With fairly regularly sleep patterns, we generally got good reports for duration, regularity and interruptions, but depth was a consistent issue for us. What that says about how we sleep isn't 100 per cent clear to us, which we'll come to later.
Going down further takes you to another graph, of your heart rate throughout the night, then down to a measure of any breathing disturbances you might have had - if the tracker detects any consistently it'll flag these to you. It can also listen for snoring.
Finally, you have the option to add notes to the night if you want to. A menu accessed at a tap, meanwhile, lets you either delete a night's data, edit it to change when you fell asleep, when you woke up if you know it's not quite right, or access a few learning resources about sleep.
You can easily zoom out to a weekly or monthly view, too, to get more of a sense for how things have been going over time, with colour coding again showing you how a night was at a glance.
All of these metrics are potentially useful in different ways, and we certainly found that the Sleep Analyzer almost always reflected in its results the feeling we woke up with, broadly speaking. What felt like a bad night was generally recorded as such, in short.
Testing the results against another tracker threw up a degree of variation that we were expecting - take the below night where we wore both our Fitbit Versa Lite and used the Withings Sleep Analyzer.
While they're not quite the same at a glance, once you discount the Analyzer misinterpreting my reading a book in bed during the evening, the numbers they reach become really similar. That's an easy edit to make, although we did find that the Analyzer's under-bed nature does make it prone to that sort of minor mistake.
How useful are sleep analytics?
If we have a hesitation regarding the Sleep Analyzer, as we hinted at in our introduction, it's one that applies to all sleep tracking. We're simply not 100 per cent sure that most people need the data this device records.
While it was interesting to see nights laid out in more detail, the information it gave was pretty hard to use constructively - the app itself told us that we couldn't do much to improve on our consistently bad "depth" score, for example.
Similarly, over around two months of use we went from checking in on the data each morning to forgetting about it for a week at a time. That's no problem, and if we had been suffering from sleep apnea or disturbances the app would have alerted us about it - well, we would hope so, but cannot confirm this - but it also indicates that the degree to which this data is needed is up for debate.
Of course, if you know you want it, there's no doubt that Withings' tracker will do the business for you as well as you could want - without the disturbance of wearing a device on your wrist.
If you know you want a sleep tracker then the Withings Sleep Analyzer is a superb product that unobtrusively keeps you on top of a range of interesting metrics - without the need to wear any body-based device - and has the win-win addition of sleep apnea detection for the first time.
That means that on top of your sleep score and a far better sense for how you're actually sleeping, you could find out information about yourself that could positively impact your health.
However, there's still the lingering question of whether most people will truly need the data this device produces - because, in many circumstances, it cannot be acted upon.
Still, judged on its own merits, the Withings Sleep Analyzer is an excellent sleep tracker that's easier to use than any alternative.